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Timetable changes across the CalMac ferry networks are not acceptable – but neither is inadequate consultation on radical proposals.

That was the message from CalMac’s community board, which met on Friday (26 February) and heard from Transport Scotland about the proposed cuts to the timetable.

Transport Scotland’s head of ferries Laurence Kenney attended Friday’s virtual community board meeting and notified members that proposed changes would not go ahead.

The decision is to be revisited on 25 April, in the light of the Covid situation and taking into account passenger and freight figures and the mood and opinions of communities served by the ferry network.

Community consultation board chairman Angus Campbell today (Monday) said that the board welcomed the decision, but he blasted both CalMac and Transport Scotland for treating the board as ‘tail-end Charlie’ in such a significant consultation.

The community consultation board’s remit, as laid out on CalMac’s website, shows that island ferry committees and community councils have the overall responsibility for setting the details of the timetables and broader route-specific issues, while Transport Scotland retains responsibility for policy matters.

Despite this, chair Angus Campbell said: “The community board’s opinion, expressed quite strongly, was that we had been left out of the consultation. We get promises of being included in decision-making so often, and then when something as significant as this happens we’re tail-end Charlie.

“It is unacceptable just to present a timetable that was cut, without looking at the impact of this and whether these are the right cuts.

“For example, taking away the second ferry crossing between Stornoway and Ullapool on a Friday, which is the means by which people get home at the end of a week.

“For Coll and Barra it would have meant not getting food onto the island on time and the changes would also have impacted the viability of fish and shellfish exports from Barra and elsewhere in the Western Isles.

“The barriers to fish export are already bad enough, with Brexit and everything, without adding gaps in the ferry service to the mix.

“The community consultation board had so many concerns about the proposals, including over the drydock timetable and the availability of ferry stock.

“Our other question was why now? If they had looked at it as part of the lockdown at the beginning, more people could have understood it.

“Despite all this talk of consultation, we end up being told the decision which has been made, rather than being asked the questions about what we think of the proposals.

“The information about the proposed timetable changes came to us only on Friday 19 February, and by the time we met on Friday the decision had been made.

“We very much welcome the decision and want to continue being involved in further decisions at the earliest possible stage. But there was a very, very strong message at the meeting that the board exists to be consulted – not on our own behalf but to reflect back the views of our communities.

“That’s the whole principle of consultation, but we cannot be effective if we are not asked for our views.”

  • CalMac’s community board also discussed the issue of commercial fares on island ferry routes during a question and answer session. The board’s view was that this is not the time to put up the cost of moving goods to and from the islands. No decision has yet been taken, but an announcement is expected on that issue from Transport Scotland in the near future.